In the year and a half that he has been at the Japanese Embassy here, Hiroaki Fujii has become reconciled to the early morning telephone calls. While he is still drinking a first cup of tea in his Bethesda house owned by the embassy, his bosses at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo are placing their last calls of the day, getting ready to go home.

On this particular Monday the telephone rang even more often than usual. There was trouble at home. For months Japanese newspapers had been reporting allegations that Grumman International paid off officials of one of Japan's largest trading corporations to facilitate sales of its E2C early warning air defense planes to the Japanese government. The charges detonated a domestic scandal which has become the Japanese equivalent of Watergate.

Today Fujii would have to deal with that crisis. In the afternoon he planned to visit officials at the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission and formally negotiate the transfer of information they had collected to prosecutors back in Japan. In the evening he would meet foreign correspondents from Japanese newspapers at the National Press Club and discuss the latest unravelings.

"This is different," he said afterwards, "from the normal kinds of questions which the embassy deals with because we think this is not something which is between the American government and the Japanese government, but at the same time it is the biggest issue in Japan today. It has to be cleared, naturally."

And naturally Fujii would be the one to do it. Not because it falls within his job description. Not because he is one of the highest-ranking officials at the embassy. But because right now he is one of the most influential persons there.

Hiroaki Fujii, the counselor of general affairs and the head of the chancery, that is, the business offices, is a short, stocky, curly-headed man who is heading into middle age with his waistline a good two inches larger than it should be. Fujii has a tough time saying no to plates of fettucine at Romeo and Juliet, his favorite spot for expense account lunches.

He looks a little like a younger Japanese Henry Kissinger which is fine because Fujii is an enthusiastic fan of the former secretary of state. He was thrilled when he and Kissinger shared a table at an embassy party last December during the Washington premier of "Superman."

And as Americans once watched Kissinger, the Japanese watch Fujii. Not that he would stand out on an organizational chart of the embassy. He reports to the minister plenipotentiary and to the ambassador. There are no less than four ministers who theoretically outrank him and 10 other counselors.

Fujii is nonetheless a very important person because the Japanese like to use go-betweens. Ever concerned with the loss of face, positively distrustful of frank and open conversational forays, the Japanese often tap a neutral individual, a go-between, who can sound out the opinions of different parties and avoid embarrassments in delicate negotiations.

When Fujii was courting his wife Kiyo, prime minister Masayoshi Ohira was his go-between. As a result Ohira became sort of a lifetime sponsor of the Fujiis, a guardian who is expected to watch over and safeguard the future of the couple, now in their 40s. The dotted lines of authority among Japanese are hair fine, but power flows strongly along these strands of personal relationships. A Japanese newspaper reporter said, "In your culture you would say that Fujii now has a silver spoon in his mouth.

And so it happened that Fujii began losing a logistical fight with his razor. At 8 a.m. the telephone rang for the first time, and before he could finish shaving, nine more calls came into the house on Greentree Road. Fujii, who usually arrives at the embassy before 9:30 a.m., was late, very late by his standards.

By the time he drove through the massive black wrought iron gates at 2520 Massachusetts Av., it was after 10 a.m. He pulled into the cobblestone courtyard to park his car, the same courtyard where Japanese diplomats burned papers and documents the day of Pearl Harbor. These days Hornets and Ford Granadas are nestled beside Datsuns and Toyotas, all of them owned by the embassy's foreign service officers.

An inch and a half stack of cables was waiting for Fujii as he slipped behind his desk. The first thing each morning he sorts through all the cables that have arrived at the chancery during the night, picking out those with top priority and distributing them to colleagues." And if there are none which are urgent and important, I am much relieved," he says.

Fujii picked the first cable off the top of the stack and began reading.

Glamorous the chancery is not. The ambassador's office, which faces Rock Creek Park, looks like the inside of a roller skating rink that has been hung with green velvet curtains. The decor in the rest of the offices leans toward Early Greyhound Bus Station - plastic bucket seats, thread-bare carpets and couches whose springs long ago gave up and out. "It is an embarrassment to our country," said a Japanese national here.

The original section which served as the ambassador's residence up until two years ago was built in 1921 and even with two additions the staff outgrew the chancery some time ago.

The science section has moved into a suite at the Watergate but even so there are too many bodies for too little space. Senior officers who would normally rate private offices occupy glass-partioned cubicles. Junior officers are crammed three and four to a room. "Oh how I envy my counterparts at the State Department who have their own offices and secretaries," moaned a second secretary. "Here it is share, share, share."

The staff is debating whether to build a new chancery or to expand on the present three-acre site. Fujii is partial to expansion. "After all," he said, "this is a historic building. It was the one in use at the time of Pearl Harbor. It is really a landmark on Massachusetts Avenue."

There are 74 employes - 69 diplomats, five of whom are Toyko-based but do not have diplomatic status and 10 local employes who are mostly in clerical and maintenance positions. Almost all the diplomats are men. The Japanese constitution, drafted by the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur after the war and adopted in 1947, includes an "ERA clause" that forbids "discrimination in political, economic or social relations" because of sex. The impact in tradition-hobbled Japanese society, however, is only now beginning to be felt. The four women in the foreign service section are on the lowest rungs of the career ladder.

The normal tour of duty is two years, and while they are here, staffers are paid in yen, which means a windfall when the yen goes up and the dollar declines. The windfall, though, is brief. Yoshio Karita, the counselor in charge of the information and cultural section, said with a laugh, "Our Foreign Ministry is very efficient, and each year they adjust our salaries to take this into account."

Not all the diplomats are from the Foreign Ministry. Ten of the staff have been temporarily detailed from such ministries as Finance, Agriculture and Defense.

"We are like a big department store," said Ken Unno, a career civil servant at the Agriculture Ministry. This is not to say it is like one big happy family. Conflicts fray the relations between the diplomats who owe their loyalty to the Foreign Ministry and the diplomats who nominally report to the foreign minister but whose real loyalties remain elsewhere.

When an officer in the finance section learned that President Richard Nixon was about to announce the dollar float, he called his old boss at the Finance Ministry before he told his colleagues at the embassy. The Foreign Ministry people were not pleased.

This is Japan's largest and most prestigious embassy. "A stay in Washington is considered very precipitous for our future career back in Japan," said Fujii. Those who once served here include the head of the joint chiefs of staff, the president of the Bank of Tokyo and the minister of international trade and industry.

To get here in the first place it is almost mandatory to be a graduate of Tokyo University. That university is sort of like Harvard College - were the entire Ivy League rolled into one and settled down in Cambridge. In acutely rank-conscious Japan, Tokyo University carries the ultimate cachet. Tokyo University is so highly esteemed in Japanese society that those who have gone there are forever set apart from those who have not. About a foreign service officer, a Japanese-American who does business with the embassy said, "There is one thing you must remember. He did not go to Tokyo."

In recent years the Foreign Ministry has tried to open up the foreign service to graduates of other schools, but that has been only partially successful. About 600 individuals take the foreign service exam each year, and some 20 to 25 are accepted. Graduates of Tokyo University, which has become something of a prep school for the foreign service, still have the edge, comprising about two-thirds of those who manage to pass the written and oral exams and survive the personal interview.

Those who enter together form a distinct closeness in the same way that congressmen and senators who are elected in a particular year do. Together they will rise in the hierarchy of the Foreign Ministry until one is finally selected as the vice minister, the top bureaucrat who is responsible for the daily operations of the ministry. At that point the others will resign.

(Those Japanese in large business firms and in government service are usually guaranteed employment for life. Those marked for leadership positions progress together as a "class" through the government or corporate hierarchy. All are promoted together and at the same time. Managers are always older than their subordinates. No one hopscotches ahead. About 35 years later, and in their 50s, one person in the class will probably be chosen as the top executive. The others in his class leave to retain face).

The officers who one day will wield influence at the Japanese embassy in Washington usually start their careers by studying English and politics in the United States, who fall loosely under the jurisdiction of the embassy). Often that is followed by a short stint at the embassy in Washington. Fujii, who studied at Amherst and later at Harvard where he helped Edwin O. Reischauer write his classic. The Japanese, was the protocol aide to the U.S. ambassador in the late 1950s.

By the time they arrive back at the U.S. Embassy, they frequently have spent years in the North American affairs bureau of the Foreign Ministry. Jule Sugarman, deputy director of the office of personnel management and a student of comparative bureaucracies, said, "Washington gets the top of the heap as far as [Japanese] diplomats are concerned. They are the best and brightest that Japan has to offer."

It is 10 a.m. and Yoshio Karita is also late. The pelting rain outside has delayed him. He arrives a trifle out of breath and scattering rain drops in his path for his 9:30 a.m. meeting. Koichiro Matsuura, who has the unhappy lot of handling U.S. Japan trade relations, and Scott Runkle, president of Washington-International Communication which has a consulting contract with the embassy, are already in his private office.

Runkle rummages through his file folders for a draft of "News from Japan," a weekly newsletter sent to American journalists interested in international economics and foreign affairs. The headline of the lead story is: "Japan's Exports to U.S. Continue to Drop as Imports Mount."

It comes to this: stripped of the glamorous veneer and the diplomatic niceties and without some of the routine work such as granting visas, any embassy is a public relations and advertising firm for the government it represents. Its purpose is to get out the message - whatever that message may be. Here in Karita's section the basics go on day after day. Get out the good news about dropping exports. Try to minimize the bad.

The bad news for his particular week is an article which appeared that morning on the front page of The New York Times and which alleged that Japanese manufacturers are dumping color television sets on the American market. There is nothing particularly new about the charges. The Journal of Commerce reported them months ago. But the fact that The New York Times and investigative reporter Seymour Hersh are suddenly interested is troubling.

Runkle says, "It is one thing when the charges are reported on the back pages of the Journal of Commerce and another thing when it is on the front page of The New York Times."

The question is: What should the embassy do about it? Strictly speaking, it is none of their concern. Matsuura argues, "This is really a problem between the American government and Japanese business."

But they also know the story may have unwanted repercussions on Capitol Hill. They are dismayed that Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.), chairman of the Joint Economics Committee, is talking about the need to protect cattlemen from imports. They do not wish to alarm the chairman further.

A consensus emerges. Karita will prepare a statement for reporters in case they call, and with luck they will not. Otherwise, the embassy will do nothing.

Yoshio Karita, who has been in the foreign service for 20 years, arrived at the embassy last August after two years at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. He arrived at the embassy just in time for the great "Save the Whale; Boycott Japanese Products" letter-writing campaign. The information section, which normally receives about 800 inquiries a month, got more than 1,000 letters on the whales alone. It was not the happiest time in Karita's life.

He has a frustrating job in general and isn't one to complain. So he tried to adopt an optimistic outlook. "It is good for us to engage in this kind of direct dialogue with the American people know so little about Japan, and his job is to try to increase their level of awareness. Americans tend to think highly of the Japanese people, according to study which the Japan Society, Inc. commissioned from Potomac Associates. When Americans were presented with various pairs of adjectives such as loyal and treacherous, hard-working and lazy, brave and cowardly, which might be used to describe the Japanese, they almost picked the more positive.

That is no small triumph. A measure of the distance that Japan has traveled since World War II came last January. At the same time some of Washington's most influential political and social figures, including Rosalynn Carter, were attending the opening of the Terrace Theater, a $3 million gift from Japan, on the top floor of the Kennedy Center, the American Film Institute downstairs was featuring a World War II retrospective that included "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips."

Still, Karita says there is a long way to go.The same study revealed tha 20 percent of Americans believe that Japan and China share a common border. The embassy frequently receives requests for tourist information about Hong Kong and not long ago an American called the Japanese embassy because he couldn't find the embassy of Okinawa in the telephone book. Such slights sting.

"Really," he said, "Americans hear very little about Japan. What appears in the newspaper are either stories about U.S.-Japan problems like trade or, whenever else Japan comes up, it is because of very big events like earthquakes. It is sort of an endless process trying to inform because we must work within limits. Of course, within those limits we can try to do a lot."

Karita goes on sending out packets of information and hopes for small changes.

The embassy closes for lunch at noon and reopens at 2 p.m. The ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Japan to the United States of America, Fumihiko Togo, goes home to have lunch with his wife, Ise. He is chauffeured there in his black Cadillac Seville.

All of the official embassy cars are American-made. That tends to surprise Americans, whose amazement in turn befuddles the Japanse. "There is no rule or encouragement that we use Japanese cars," said Fujii. "We represent the government of Japan, not Japanese business. And for big cars, American cars to tend to be better made."

Fumihiko and Ise's residence at 4000 Nebraska Ave. NW is expensive even by Washington standards. It cost $12 million and took three years to build. The house itself has 31,200 square feet of floor space, but that does not include the tea house, pool, tennis court, cabana and greenhouse, which use up another 40,000 square feet. All of the wall hangings, all of the draperies, all of the carpets and all of the paintings were created especially for the residence.

Altogether the residence is dazzling but has provoked controversy back in Japan. The Japanese prefer self-effacement over self-aggrandizement. A Japanese national said, "This is not our way. It is too ostentatious. We would like something simpler."

The Togos are seemingly about as opposite as two people could be and remain married for a third of a century. She is tall, slender, urbane and vivacious. She refuses to wear the kimono even on the ceremonial occasions for which it is now largely reserved because, she says, it makes her look like a giraffe. Instead she is partial to designer sportswear and evening gowns. Her parents were career diplomats in the foreign service, and she grew up in the United States and Western Europe.

He is short, silent and favors white shirts, black suits and one-and-half-inch black ties. He would have looked right at home at IBM in the 1950s.

When they married, Fumihiko adopted her family name, partly because the Togos wanted a man to carry on their family name and partly because it was the more prestigious of the two surnames.

"My family would have thought it was very selfish if he did not take our name," Ise said. Her father, Shigenori Togo, was the foreign minister of Japan during World War II.

Togo defines his role narrowly. What does he do as ambassador?" "I run the embassy and perform the functions assigned to it," he said. "I have been in the foreign service for almost 40 years, and I was trained as a good bureaucrat to do a service to my country."

He apparently has never learned that Americans tend to identify with personalities. Which is the reason former Sen. Sam Ervin was chosen by American Express to hawk its credit card and why Ardeshir Zahedi, the former Iranian ambassador, won so many friends for the shah.

Even those government officials who are sympathetic to Japan are baffled by his style. An American official said, "I guess you have to say that Togo exemplifies the difference in the two cultures. It is hard to tell from our cultural perspective how he could be considered effective and dynamic, but he has obviously made it to the top. He may not be a hail-fellow-well-met type, but he has substance on the issues."

Everyone, however, seems to like Ise. Born in another time and place, she says she might have become a veterinarian.

She is passionately fond of her 8-year-old dachshund Nobby, who likes to nibble on the pate de fois gras that is served to visitors. As it is, her zip may be the source of the gossip that she really runs the embassy.

Nonsense, says Ise.

"I can't influence him. He has definite opinions of his own, and I don't try to change them," she said. "Of course, I think it is always good to talk things out. I couldn't have lived in a happy marriage if I couldn't express my opinions. I try to give my husband assistance when it is needed, and I run this motel here."

To help she has a staff of 18 headed by the chief butler Carlos Murillo, who came to the United States from Mexico more than 26 years ago and has worked for every Japanese ambassador since the embassy reopened in 1952.

The Togos try to eat lunch together and privately because it is the only time they can find to be alone.At night they are on the diplomatic circuit.

As Murillo starts to serve them, across town the foreign service officers are anything but alone. Lunch is important to them because on the banquettes of some of the most expensive restaurants in Washington they can explain the Japanese position to influential Americans.

"At lunch," says Fujii, "we can really discuss business. At dinner the talks is more social."

A lot of the Americans who sit across the table are reporters and journalists and that day Fujii was entertaining some editors from a news magazine. Ordinarily Karita would have been there, but he, Matsuura and Unno were at a luncheon at the University Club.

The lunch waw put together by Don Lerch who runs an agribusiness and public affairs firm and also has a consulting contract with the embassy. He had invited representatives from the major agriculture trade associations and 13 showed up to eat roast beef and listen to the Japanese message.

That message rarely varies and Matsuura has said it so often that his delivery is sure and smoothly persuasive. Yes, there are trad problems, but they are not as bad as some Americans think. The conflict between the two countries is actually quite small and the trade imbalance is really not the result of closed Japanese markets as Americans believe, he says. The trade deficit will be reduced gradually and the important thing is for Japan and the United States to work together and never to forget that the relationship overall is a good one.

The men listen impassively. Some take notes and the few questions are friendly.

The days for the embassy staff also have a tempo which varies only slightly. The mornings are for meetings and consulting with colleagues. (Americans who have business at the embassy remember an often-repeated phrase: "I must consult with my colleagues.") Monday mornings at 10 a.m. the 30 officers who are at the First Secretary level and up gather in the ambassador's office for a general staff meeting where the section heads report on the events of the previous week. Thursday mornings at 10 a.m. the seven senior foreign service officers and the ambassador get together. In-between the various sections have their own meetings.

"We must meet with our colleagues on what to do for our priorities and what emphasis to give them," said Fujii.

Decisions emerge and evolve from the group of colleagues, performance is constantly evaluated and suggestions for improvement are proposed. This is the Japanese way.

(The Japanese have little use for individual responsibility, the "buck-stops-here" philosophy. They are a society of groups and within the groups lies shared responsibility for decisions. Once when the protocol aide to the ambassador here was asked who was in charge of the guest list for embassy parties, he said, "That is difficult to say. We are a group-oriented people, so we do not have people who are responsible for things as you Americans do.")

The afternoons are for calls on government officials and congressional staff. Few people come to the embassy. In a three-week period in January and February the only Americans who visited the chancery were a writer and Congressman Tom Foley (D-Wash.)

It was not always so. The staff's ventures to the Hill, to the Commerce and Treasury Departments and the Office of Special Trade at the White House are a drastic departure from the past.

"In the '50s when I was here the embassy was much smaller and the State Department was the only world in which we could communicate," says Fujii. "Now we have expanded our contacts and they are much more varied.

"The Japanese tend to be very polite. Even if somebody critizes us, the Japanese instinct is not to talk back until the very last point, until we become very frustrated." But even that tradition is changing on foreign soil. "My colleagues at the embassy, we think it is better for us to express an opinion. Now we speak up," Fujii says.

But the Japanese also have a saying, the message of which is not lost at the embassy: "The nail that sticks out gets banged down." That penchant for refuge in the group causes Japanese to shrink from the wheeling and dealing which Americans take for granted in politics.

Their formality also creates reluctance. Even among themselves they seem strangely reserved. First names are almost never used.

"They are not very important in Japan," said Karita as he was explaining the organization and personnel at the embassy. As he mentioned a key minister, he suddenly paused. "I will have to check on the first name," he said and dashed out of his office. There was an excited burst of talk in the information section and upon his return Karita said, "We are researching the first name."

The embassy closes at 5 p.m. but the foreign service officers rarely leave before 7 or 8 p.m. Then they are often off to embassy social functions or to give their own private dinners for Americans. One month when Fujii kept track, he found he had dinner alone with his wife only once.

For the most part they are a close-knit group whose public and private lives revolve around the embassy. Their sports tournaments are major events. Their children attend "Saturday school" where they learn Japanese. Over the holidays last year the embassy hosted four different Christmas parties and a New Year's Day reception for employes.

When the majority of the diplomats are finally heading back to their homes in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs after an evening out, the officers in the telecommunications section are just beginning the bulk of their work. Because of the 14-hour time difference between Tokyo and Washington, the RCA teletype machines clatter all night long.

The most urgent cables can reach the embassy in 10 seconds and in English. (That is supposed to prevent a repeat of the "Pearl Harbor incident" as Fujii calls it. The story, perhaps apocryphal, is that the Foreign Ministry called the embassy Dec. 7, 1941 and instructed a foreign service officer to deliver a declaration of war to the State Department. While the beleaguered first secretary who couln't type struggled with his typewriter, Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor.)

Shiro Tsuchiya started ripping cables from the machines, and he and his staff of nine began the translations. The cables come in English so they can be transmitted quickly and simply in the 26-letter alphabet. They are then translated into Japanese characters.

Up on the second floor the men huddle around the conference table and bend over their papers.

Tsuchiya lights another in an endless stream of Marlboros and fumbles for a cigarette holder. Another day at the embassy has begun. CAPTION: Picture 1, Above a spacious reception room at the lavish and controversial Japanese ambassador's residence. Butler Carlos Murillo has served every Japanese ambassador since World War II; Picture 2, Ambassador Fumihiko Togo and wife Ise in the foyer of thier 31,200-square-foot Washington home.